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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Storage Of Archival Materials

Do Not Do Anything That Is Not Reversible

  • Do not use pen to write on any document or photograph, even on the back. Use only soft pencil to record identification on the back of a photo. Be careful that the writing does not leave an impression or embossing on the surface. Write along the bottom or edges only. It is also archivally safe to use a PIGMA pen to write on the back of photographs.
  • Do not make repairs with ordinary adhesive tape. There are special archival tapes and other materials available for this purpose. Research proper archival techniques before attempting any repair or cleaning.
  • Do not laminate any item. A technique called encapsulation, using archival quality Mylar, achieves the same objective of protecting the document; it is reversible and the materials are chemically inert. The document is placed in an archival safe page protector, all the air is carefully squeezed out and the open edge sealed with double-sided acid-free tape.
  • Do not use ordinary glue to mount photographs and do not use ‘magnetic’ photo albums. There are archival quality hinges and photo corners available for mounting on acid-free sheets. Another technique is to cut slits in acid-free paper to insert the corners of the photo. Archival quality glue is now available from scrapbooking stores.
  • Adhesive labels are popular for their convenience. Be aware that, firstly— they do not always stay affixed for very long and secondly, unless the adhesive is archival quality, and few are, it can destroy that part of the document. If you insist on using them, place behind an inconsequential part of the photo or photocopy. Protect From Damage By Light, Heat, Dirt, Handling and Chemicals.
  • Most modern paper products contain acids and bleach from processing. Many plastics contain chemicals which are released to their surroundings. These are destructive to papers, photographs, negatives and textiles. Use archival supplies which are free of these contaminants. Always consider whether your storage supplies for historic materials are inert.
  • Light, especially ultraviolet rays, will fade documents, photographs, negatives and textiles. Provide dark storage in a file cabinet or covered album. Use copies of original materials for display and reference purposes.
  • High temperatures and humidity, and especially fluctuations in temperature and humidity, hasten deterioration of paper, photographs, negatives and textiles. Try to maintain a cool, constant temperature and moderate humidity. Avoid storage in attic or garage space where there are extreme temperature variations.
  • Too much handling can cause damage from dirt, fingerprints and tearing. Avoid handling by using a copy as your reference document. Protect the original by encapsulation or proper archival storage. Use white cotton gloves if you must handle original documents or photos.
  • Photographs and documents may be faded or damaged when you receive them. The image or information can be preserved by photographing or photocopying. Be aware that the heat and light required for photocopying is harmful and should be avoided if the original is fragile. Newspaper clippings are best photocopied on acid-free paper, as soon as possible.

Be careful to distinguish between various kinds of plastic envelopes and containers. Polypropylene is the best, including envelopes made of spun polypropylene called Tyvek, and polyethylene, polythene and polyester are fine. The big bad one is PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which should be avoided at all cost (Parkinson).

Care of Heritage Fabrics

There is much useful information in Althea Douglas’s two-volume Help! I’ve Inherited an Attic Full of History. What on Earth do I do with all this stuff? published by the Ontario Genealogical Society. It is especially for people who―willingly or otherwise―find themselves the custodians of a portion of history, be it their family’s history or that of a business, institution or club. Volume 1 Dating, evaluating and disposing of the accumulation of a lifetime. 1998. Volume 2 Archival conservation in the home environment. 1999. In most countries, national museum associations or local history agencies publish information on care of textiles and suppliers of archival products. These publications can be found at your local public library.

Storage of Oral Information

Tapes should be stored in a moderately cool and dry place, lying flat with the tape rewound to the end of the interview, and they should be played once or twice a year. These techniques will prevent bleeding of the sound or sticky shed syndrome. Commercial cabinets are available but do make sure to get the ones that keep the tapes flat, not upright. If you have older reel-to-reel tapes which may have been stored incorrectly then consult the experts at Precious Voices before trying to play them.

The older technology tapes from cassette recorders should be archived on CDs before they deteriorate. This can be done at home, a typical 700mb CD taking about 80 minutes of archival-quality stereo material. A DVD will hold about eight times this amount. CDs and DVDs should be stored in cases from which they drop onto your finger easily when upturned. Wrestling with disks to remove then from their cases should be avoided as it twists the disk and destroys portions of the data. Disk cases should grip the disks only at the centre hole, and should be stored vertically. Nothing should ever touch the data side of the disk, including plastic pockets. The latter are unwise for long-term storage as even one dust particle can erase data (Eastman).

Storage of Written Information

The two most successful and popular methods of storing the various paper documents are in file folders or in loose-leaf binders with index tabs. The availability of either file cabinets or bookshelves in your home office space may determine which method is for you.

Another consideration is whether you are mainly going to be working with the files, or whether you will need to display them often to your family. Filing folders are great for office work, but do not transport or display as well as binders.

If you have a computer consider your space and working habits. Is it easier to access binders or files from where you sit at your computer?

Whatever method is chosen, archivally safe plastic envelopes or page protectors, and perhaps encapsulation processing should be used for the older and more fragile items.

Storage of Visual Information

The ideal storage for photographs is in a dark place in albums made of acid-free paper or in archival quality envelopes. Do not use ‘magnetic’ photo albums, the ones with plastic overlays holding the photos in place, as the plastic gradually absorbs the photograph! Acid-free storage pages or envelopes for negatives are also obtainable.

Alternatively, appropriate acid-free page protectors can be used so that photos can be stored together with your written information in either filing folders or binders.

If you wish to display a photograph in your home then make a copy print for this purpose, so that the original will not fade away when exposed to the light. Special archival pencils as well as acid-free envelopes, albums and other containers are now available.

Experts have varying opinions on how video tapes should be stored; some say you should have them lying flat while others indicate they should be stored upright. Everyone agrees that they should be stored in a moderately cool, dry place and should be played through once or twice a year. If you discover old home movies do get them professionally copied onto videotape as soon as possible. You can also do this yourself with a camcorder, a VCR and a video transfer box. In a few years the machines capable of running those home movies will all be in museums. Even better, store them on a CD (which will hold 15-20 mins. of movie) or DVD (holds roughly eight times as much). These newer technologies are better because they can be run, and copied, with no deterioration in quality.

If you are fortunate enough to have acquired older photographic media such as tintypes or glass plate negatives do consult your local archivist for advice on storage and do not attempt cleaning or restoration without expert help.

Storage of Artefacts

In most cases you will have to seek alternate storage facilities for the ‘things’ that belonged to your ancestors, as appropriate. Many can make delightful and different home displays if appropriate cabinets can be found or made. Consult a local archives, university or specialist museum for help with identification and storage ideas, and particularly before attempting any cleaning or restoration.

Some good references on care and preservation of your ancestral treasures include:


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.